The end of an era

The end of an era

UNI honors West Gym in vision for future

For nearly a century, the West Gym has had an iconic presence on the University of Northern Iowa campus. Originally named the Men’s Gymnasium, its presence has been constant through countless sporting events, PE classes, dances, pep rallies, concerts, commencements and more.

West Gym historical photos


The West Gym’s origins begin after World War I when UNI (then the Iowa State Teachers College) began to prioritize recruiting men to the teaching profession, including physical education and coaching. College officials decided that a new gymnasium built solely for men’s physical education and intercollegiate athletics could aid these recruiting efforts.

It served as a makeshift dorm, a polling location and gathering spot for the UNI community. It has been the site of marriage proposals and its coordinates are tattooed on the arm of at least one alum.

“The West Gym was once far more than a center for athletics,” said Sandy Stevens, ’62, a UNI Foundation trustee. “Concerts, graduations were held there, and that’s where everyone congregated to mourn when JFK was assassinated.”

In 2023, architects and consultants identified unexpected structural issues in the building, making it necessary for the West Gym to be vacated. Offices for track and field, cross country and softball relocated on campus. UNI’s wrestling program was forced to choose an alternate location for its student-athletes to train and practice.

“The West Gym was an iconic space for us. So many memories were built there, but so many men were built there,” said UNI head wrestling coach Doug Schwab. “It’s not just a wrestling room, no, it’s so much more than that because of the lessons that were taught in it.”

“As an opponent, West Gym was intimidating. It never felt like we were playing in a sports facility, it was like you were walking right into the heart of the Panther den itself.”



UNI Wrestling Training Facility rendering exterior

In November, planning and fundraising for a new wrestling training facility began officially with the approval of the Board of Regents.

“We recognize the history of the West Gym and the importance. There are a lot of people that are connected to that facility,” said UNI President Mark Nook. “There will be pieces of the building that will be in a place to honor the facility, but more importantly honor the student-athletes that have trained in that facility. And that’s not just wrestlers — that’s volleyball players, that’s basketball players, it’s dance team members, it’s cheer team members and members of our Panther Marching Band that have all used the facility. There are a lot of memories amongst alumni in the West Gym.”

UNI’s new wrestling training facility will meet the program’s existing and anticipated future needs with weight and cardio training space, multiple mats, locker rooms, office space for wrestling, a rehabilitation room and a training room. This project will be solely financed by private gifts.

Wrestling facility Hall of fame rendering

Wrestling facility training room rendering

Wrestling facility practice mats rendering

Wrestling facility locker room rendering

“We have a big lift in front of us, but when you consider the history of the University of Northern Iowa, Panther Athletics, the Panther Train and the individual student-athletes in the wrestling program, it gives me great confidence in this project,” said Nook.

“The people around our athletes are the most important, but having a facility that meets our needs is critical,” said Schwab. “I’m thinking about how we can get our next 100-year-old building. How that will happen is a lot of fans, a lot of donors and a lot of people who believe in what we’re doing beyond the wrestling mat.”